When Real Change published our first website in 1996, I put the thing together myself after spending a weekend with a book on HTML. Those were the days when internet URL directories were still published on paper. They looked a little like the New York phonebook and quickly became silly when search engines like Yahoo and Google made them obsolete.
The Web was the new frontier, cruised by most at a “blazing fast” 28.8 bps. Ugly websites were abundant, and our red, white and blue hypertext-manic monstrosity was no exception.
Since then, realchangenews.org has been rebuilt on the cheap numerous times. Our last complete overhaul was in 2008, and it did little to anticipate the changes that would soon come.
The smartphone revolution was already underway, as was the social media revolution that quickly followed. The ways we interact online, the ways we get and read our news, and the ways in which we pay for small services: All have changed.
And so, big changes are coming to Real Change, beginning with the new, mobile-friendly website that launched last week.
We are grateful to our friends at Portland’s Street Roots and web developer OMBU, who have spent the past year upgrading and packaging their cutting-edge website for street papers like ourselves.
While a full website overhaul can run $50K and up, ours, which features robust search filters for news, deep social-media integration and simple navigation throughout, just might be the best $12,000 Real Change ever spent.
But more is on the way. In April, the Real Change app, which allows phone purchase of a digital edition of Real Change for $2.99, will be available for download and use.
Throughout the world, papers like Real Change are grappling with the implications of a changing media landscape. At the annual conference of the International Network of Street Papers, the most popular workshop for several years running has been “Street Papers and the Digital Age.”
The upshot goes something like this: Print is not dead. Newspapers, and community-based newspapers in particular, have continued relevance and always will. The question we face is not print versus digital, but how print and digital will work together to create a variety of on-demand reader experiences.
With street newspapers, the question is complicated by the vendor relationship. When you purchase Real Change, the newspaper itself is only part of the point. Each year, when we survey our vendors, they tell us that the money they earn is important, but the conversations and relationships are what keep them going. Our readers say the same thing.
We have kept the vendor at the heart of the transaction. Here’s how our app will work.
Readers will download their free Real Change app from the Google Play or iTunes stores. They will enter credit card information once, the first time the app opens, or use the default account associated with other app or music downloads.
So, say you’re on the street, you see a vendor and you have no cash. Up till now, that was the end of the story. Starting this April, thanks to a handful of volunteers at Google, there’s a solution.
You launch your Real Change app, scan the QR code on the vendor badge, see the vendor’s name and photo appear on your phone, press pay; then you get a link to download an electronic version of Real Change for your digital device.
The next morning, a sale credit appears in your vendor’s account, and he or she can claim payment at the Real Change vendor desk.
The online transaction takes just seconds. The Real Change app is fast, seamless and secure, and it removes the biggest sales barrier our vendors face. And the new edition of Real Change that goes to your phone is ready whenever you are.
Look for more information in coming weeks as our “No Cash, No Problem” promotional campaign prepares vendors and readers for the April 8 launch. And visit our new website at realchangenews.org.
Real Change. We’re your newspaper of the future.